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How to Write Common Application Essay 4 Problem You Solved or Would Like to Solve


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How to Write Common Application Essay 4: Problem You Solved or Would Like to Solve

How to Write Common Application Essay 4 Problem You Solved or Would Like to Solve

Are you looking for college essay help?

Do you want to find your best college essay topic, or learn which Common Application prompt is right for you?

Would you like to write a creative and memorable essay?

You’ve come to right place. This is my series on the 2018 Common Application essay prompts. In this post, you’ll learn about Common Application Prompt 4 and discover if it’s right for you.

Ready? Let’s do it!

Common Application Prompt 4

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Problem you’ve solved or would like to solve”“Personal importance”“No matter the scale”…”Steps you took or could be taken”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF:

  • You’ve identified a problem with meaning and importance to you.
  • You’ve actively worked on a solution – OR – Although you haven’t taken any steps, you have an idea what steps are necessary to find a solution.

Why Should You Consider This Topic?

  • It’s the chance to write about a meaningful idea or experience.
  • You can show off your problem-solving skills.
  • You can show off your critical thinking skills.
  • Colleges love to see how you think. This question lets you show them how you’d plan a course of action to achieve a goal.
    how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid: 
  • Answer the Entire Question. The question has four parts: Describe a problem, explain its significance to you, identify a solution, and describe either how you achieved it or might begin to achieve it. You must answer all four parts.
  • The Problem Isn’t Meaningful Enough to You. You could write about lobbying for longer lunch periods, but so what? Make sure the problem you’re writing about matters to you.
  • Don‘t be Generic. The prompt says you can write about anything “no matter the scale.” But even a large-scale topic needs to be of personal significance. Sure, you could write about world peace—but can you demonstrate your passion and connection? Or will you be writing phrases like, “Everyone should get along” and “Peace will help save the world”? Be specific about how a topic has touched you or means something to you. That’s the only way your personality will land squarely on the page.
  • Don’t Skimp on the Solution. If your essay spends most of its time describing the problem and only a couple of sentences on achieving a solution, then it’s unbalanced. Make sure to devote space to discussing your solution. This should include your thought process—what you’re thinking, why you’re thinking it, and the decisions that result. You’re showing colleges what kind of critical thinker and problem solver you’ll be at college. Show them you’ll be a darn good one.
  • You Don’t Have to Solve The Problem Alone. You may require a team or teams of people with specific skills to achieve your goal. That’s okay. Write about who they are (scientists,  politicians, researchers..?) and what they’ll contribute. Part of your problem-solving process is to figure out what support you’ll need.

Not Sure This Question Relates to You?
Here Are Questions You Can Ask Yourself:

  • Are you a budding scientist with research ideas?
  • Do you have an idea for a product that solves a problem?
  • Have you figured out a way to make everyday life a little easier?
  • Were you ever creative or resourceful when it came to solving a common problem?
  • Have you been involved with a group, program, or internship where you’ve learned about a problem that became important to you, and now you have ideas about how you can continue to think about or work on it?

Examples of Successful Essay Topics

Brain Farts

Jeremy was driving home and missed the turn down his street. He was stumped. He couldn’t figure out why he’d missed doing something he had done a hundred times. He wanted to know what caused his “brain fart,” so he found the scientific name (maladaptive change) and developed a two-part experiment to identify and predict when these changes would occur. Jeremy hopes to get the chance to conduct his experiment when he gets to college. In this essay, he was able to demonstrate his scientific mind and problem-solving skills.

Water Pollution Detective

During a school research project, Liz helped identify the source of pollution flowing into a local river. Helping her community meant a lot to her, and she wanted to do more. So now Liz plans to contact local authorities and work with them to set up a better monitoring system to prevent future spills. She hasn’t implemented the solution yet, but can explain the steps she’d take.

Saving the Crops

Lily, a student from China, witnessed locusts destroy her entire community’s harvest. Lily reasoned that if scientists could understand more about insect life cycles, they might be able to save crops and even combat hunger. To work on the problem, she plans to set up a research project in college. The project will use mathematical applications to more accurately predict the insects’ life cycle. Lily dreamed big, but at the same time her story was specific: She had a personal connection and a passion for solving a large-scale problem.

Interested in Common App essay #4? Include your decision-making process. Explain how you came up with (or would come up with) a possible solution (Research? Thought? Talking to people?). Make sure you explain why this topic is meaningful to you. And write a great problem-solving essay.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #5.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Read the entire “How to Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

 

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How to Write Common Application Essay 4 questioned belief or idea


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 3: Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea

How to Write Common Application Essay 4 questioned belief or idea

Are you wondering which Common Application essay is right for you? 

Are you ready to learn what makes college essays successful, and how you can be successful, too?

The Common Application essay may be the most important college application essay you’ll have to write.

In this post you’ll learn about writing Common Application essay #3. It’s part of my series on how to write the Common Application essay.

For the entire list of 2018 Common Application essay prompts click here.

Ready for number 3? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #3:

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Questioned or challenged”…”Belief or idea”…”Prompted your thinking”

Why Should You Consider This Topic?

  • You can show off your critical thinking skills.
  • It’s a chance to illustrate one or more of your personal values. (Not sure of your personal values? Click here for my personal values Worksheet.)
  • Colleges love to see how you think. They like to see what’s going on under the hood. It helps them envision you as a student when you get to school. Writing about what makes you think more deeply or how you’ve made some tough decisions will let the schools see what kind of independent thinker you’ll be when you get there.

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

A “belief or idea” can include:

  • Something you learned or were taught.
  • A belief or idea held by others (including friends, schoolmates and family).
  • A belief that’s unique to you. What if you thought your sister came from Mars? (Okay, that’s silly.) But sometimes we have our own ideas: Consider the student who thinks being loudest is the best way to gain attention, or the girl who thinks she’s happiest being alone. What if the student realized he’d rather have friends than negative attention, or the girl pushed herself out of her comfort zone to discover she enjoyed being a leader at school? Think about what you believed when you were younger, and if your ideas changed, why. If your experience is meaningful and says positive things about you (and answers the question), this prompt could be for you.

Beliefs and ideas can also be challenged on a bigger scale. Take a look at the essay example below where a student challenges the existence of an entire school event.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • This question has THREE parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: The event, what prompted your thinking, and the outcome.
  • Don’t forget to reflect on your decision. Were you satisfied with the outcome? Did you learn something from this experience? Would you do it again? The ability to reflect demonstrates insight and maturity.
  • Don’t jump to the end result. Show your thought process. Thinking is a process. It goes step by step. It’s important to show how your thought process worked when you’re writing your story.

Here’s an example of how thought process works:

There’s a pebble in my shoe, so I reach down and take it out. Done deal? Wait! Let’s back up and pay attention to how my thought process worked: I feel something bothering me and I wonder what it is. I figure I should see what’s annoying me, so I reach down and realize it’s a pebble and decide to take it out of my shoe.

That’s thought process. It’s a simple example; but what if I wrote, “I had a pebble in my shoe and took it out.” No! You actually thought about it before you acted. It’s like math class when the teacher makes you show your work—jump to the end and you miss the process.

Not Sure this Question Relates to You?
Here Are Questions You Can Ask Yourself:

  • Were you told by an adult that you wouldn’t be successful in an activity, but you chose to pursue it anyway?
  • Did you challenge what a group of friends told you to do because you thought they were wrong?
  • Did you see someone being treated unfairly (perhaps even yourself) and attempt to rectify it?
  • Have you ever changed your beliefs because you learned something new?
  • Has someone or something ever caused you to question a strong personal value?
  • Have you always assumed something, but then found yourself in a position where you had to rethink that assumption?
  • Did you always think there was a way something should or shouldn’t be done, and then changed your perspective?

Which brings me to:

Should you write about religion? You can. I’ve had students who’ve written about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion or searching for their own truth.

But here’s the caution: You never want to offend your reader. A belief or idea you disagree with could be one that your reader accepts, so weigh your topic choice and be respectful when needed. Also consider the tone of your writing. For instance, it’s a lot different to say you felt a need to find your own spiritual path than you hated a specific religion and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Bottom line: If you feel your topic could impact your admission, choose something different.

Tip: Some admissions officers tell me that many essays about spiritual journeys are starting to sound very similar to them. So if you want to write about your spiritual journey, find an original approach that makes your essay stands out. If it starts to feel generic, dig deeper into who you are and how this topic reflects your values, your ability to problem solve, or your goals. If you’re not sure it will stand out, switch topics.

Example of a Successful Essay Topic:

“Standing up for Autism”

Sam was a student with autism. Every year, his high school held an event in support of autism awareness. Students wore blue t-shirts, participated in programs, and raised money for a prominent charity devoted to autism. But Sam had become aware that many people in the autistic community were upset with this charity—they felt the charity didn’t recognize the full value or contributions of the autistic community and had made some very negative statements. After researching the charity Sam agreed, and decided he wanted the school to end its support. But he knew he’d have to handle it carefully and respectfully. So he collected evidence and videos and presented them to his vice principal. Then he wrote a formal letter to the Board of Education. After discussing Sam’s material, the Board agreed with Sam and decided that future events would no longer include the charity. Sam was both surprised and delighted. In his essay he wrote that he learned if he communicated his views in a clear and mature way, people in authority would respectfully listen and consider his viewpoint. In this case he was successful, and he felt he had made a positive difference.

Why This Topic Succeeds

  • All the keywords are addressed. Sam described the situation, discussed his thought process, and told the outcome.
  • He demonstrated critical thinking skills. He researched the charity to come to his own decision and then decided on the correct way to approach the school.
  • He included a learning experience. Sam learned that if he presented his views in a clear and respectful way that adults in authority would listen. He saw how he could make a positive change.
  • He illustrated some of his personal values: Community, Fairness, Responsibility.
  • He gave colleges excellent reasons to admit him: He took on a leadership role, communicated well with adults, and worked to create change. Even if he hadn’t been successful these qualities would have stood out.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

Next: How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstacles


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 2: Lessons We Take From Obstacles

How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstaclesHave you ever faced an obstacle and had to figure out how to get through it? Did you succeed—or maybe not?

Have you ever failed at something? I mean really tanked.

Did you learn from your experience?

Then Common Application Essay prompt #2 may be for you.

This is the second in my series on how to write the 2018 Common Application essay prompts.  In this post, you’ll discover how to approach Common Application Essay prompt 2 and decide if it’s right for you.

Are you ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #2:

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay
“Obstacles”…”Lessons”…”Challenge”…”Setback”…
“Failure”…”Affect you”…”Learn”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You tried something and failed, took a risk that didn’t pay off, made a decision that turned out to be faulty, achieved something you weren’t sure you could do, figured out a way to succeed without enough resources, persevered in the face of difficult circumstances.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can reflect on how it affected you.

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • This question has three parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.
  • Don’t wallow in the obstacle. It’s not the obstacle that’s important. Colleges are looking for how you responded and what you learned. Don’t spend too much space on what happened. Mention it and move on.
  • Avoid writing about a bad grade or marking period. Lots of students have a bad grade or marking period. If you write about it, the risk is that your essay will sound like a lot of others. (“I worked hard and learned that I could persevere.”) Remember: If your gut says it’s a common topic, sounds boring, or doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, then choose something else to write about.

Tip: Failure isn’t the only option. Some students think this question is only about failure. It’s not. That’s why the prompt includes the keywords “obstacle,” “challenge,” and “setback.” Your experience doesn’t have to rise to the level of failure for you to write about it. And you certainly don’t have to try and manipulate a setback or challenge to make it sound like one.

Successful Essay Topic Example:

“Snowbound Night”

When he was 15, Andrew started a snowplow business using an ATV he had purchased. But the ATV wasn’t good at plowing deep snow. Andrew knew that, and would plow out his customers two or three times during a big snowfall. But one night his alarm didn’t wake him up, and by morning there were eight inches of snow on the ground. When Andrew started to move the ATV, it got stuck in his driveway. He knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV, and plowed out his customers just in time for them to get to work.

After that experience, Andrew realized he needed to upgrade his equipment so he could serve his customers better. Eventually, Andrew traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. Now he would like to pursue a business career.

Why this Topic Succeeds:

•    All the keywords are addressed. Andrew told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also shows he has good character. He didn’t leave his customers hanging.

But should you really write about a failure?

Absolutely. It’s a character-building experience.

Colleges wonder whether or not you can succeed in college by handling a bad grade, a difficult roommate or another frustration. When they see you’ve already been able to handle a significant challenge, you’ve given them that answer. They start to envision the kind of person you’ll be after college, too.

how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statementDON’T BE.  Remember, colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills.

In fact, Christine Hamilton, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College, tells me she sees a lot of failure essays and that’s okay with her. She learns a lot about the character of incoming students by hearing how they’ve coped with failure.

CAUTION: Never write about failures that include very risky behavior or anything illegal (like hanging off a cliff or being caught drinking and driving).

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

Next: How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 3 A Time You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Other posts in Sharon’s “How to Write” series:
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 1 – Background, Identity or Interest
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 2Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 3 A Time You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 4Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 5Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 6: What Makes You Lose All Track of Time
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 7: Topic of Your Choice

 

How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest Talent


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 1: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent

How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest TalentWriting a Common App essay? You may have heard there are some do’s and don’ts. You may feel ready to write, or a little bit panicky. Or you may just be looking for some extra help.

Welcome! This is your guide to the Common Application essay prompts. It’s the first of a seven-part series that will cover all the prompts. In it, you’ll discover advice and information to help you write your best Common Application essay.

You’ll learn what schools look for in a Common Application essay, how to choose an essay prompt, Common App do’s and don’ts, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

Let’s Start with Common Application Essay Basics:

  • The 2018 Common Application has seven prompts. You answer one of them.
  • The Common App essay must be between 250-650 words.
  • You can’t upload more than 650 words.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check every college on your list for its essay requirements.
  • Click here for the entire list of 2018 Common App essay prompts.

What Do Schools Look for in a Common Application Essay?

  • Your writing skills.
  • Your ability to communicate your ideas.
  • Your personality on the page. (What do you care about? What makes you laugh, wonder, hope, dream, reflect, set goals, challenge yourself, want to change something? And why.)
  • A learning or growth experience.

Now, for something very important: The Instructions.

The instructions are important not just to know what to do, but to understand why you’re doing this. What’s the purpose of this thing called The Common Application essay?

Common Application Essay Instructions

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

Common Application essay instructionsYou’re essay’s got a purpose! Your essay tells the schools something positive you want them to know about you. It lets the schools get to know you in a way they can’t from the rest of your application. By making a personal connection, you help your application stand out. This is why you’re writing.

Okay, ready for the first prompt? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Talent — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You? 

  • “Background, identity, interest, talent.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Take a minute and think about what’s shaped your life. Is it who you are…where you’re from…what you love…how you think…a cause you advocate…a hobby you just learned? You can write about almost anything as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has shaped you in a fundamental way—it has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to fully understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Choose this Prompt IF:

1. This experience helped shape you in a positive way.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the admissions committee wouldn’t fully understand you.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • It has to mean something.  Sure, you may like to swim or travel, but unless it’s a meaningful experience that helped define you in some way, it doesn’t qualify. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Don’t omit what you learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure the reader sees what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.
  • Don’t sound like anyone else. Avoid writing about sports or mission trips—they’ve been written about so much most of them sound stale to admissions officers. It’s better to think about what else makes you stand out. If you’ve got the best recipe for chocolate cake or like to hunt for fossils, and you can link that to who you are, that’s going to be a more original topic.

Examples of Successful Essay Topics:

#1 – “Road Trip”

My student, Jeff, was the youngest of three brothers, both of whom were a lot older. (One was a teacher and one was in the Marine Corps.) Jeff was proud that the example his brothers set had helped him become responsible and mature, and he wanted to write about it. So he chose the summer they invited him on their cross-country trip, and the night they found themselves heading into a dangerous storm.

The two older brothers began arguing: One wanted to be safe and stop for the night and the other wanted to make it to their destination on time. Jeff recognized his brothers were at an impasse, so he checked the forecast and radar maps and figured out they could avoid the storm by taking a less direct route to their destination. When they stopped for gas, Jeff got out of the car and presented his solution. When they voiced their concerns, he calmly answered all of their questions. Eventually, his brothers agreed to continue using the longer route. When they got back in the car they asked Jeff to navigate.

By keeping a level head and finding the right way to communicate with his brothers, Jeff was able to facilitate a solution that satisfied everyone. He was proud that he helped lead them safely to their destination, and even prouder that he lived up to the examples of responsibility and maturity that his brothers had taught him.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Jeff couldn’t talk about his identity without writing about his family. The example his brothers set for him made him expect a lot of himself and become a responsible leader in many of his daily activities. It was central to who he was.
  • He learned from his experience. By being mature and thoughtful he found that he could make a positive difference in a difficult situation.

#2 – “Sharks”

Nina loved animals – the sweet, non-threatening kind. She volunteered with animals at the local zoo, but had always avoided the bigger, “dangerous” ones. But then she watched the movie “Jaws.” And, oddly, Nina fell in love with sharks. As an animal lover, she became interested in their preservation, and concerned about what she felt were inaccurate, overly negative portrayals.

Then Nina’s teacher assigned student presentations on a subject of their choice. Nina knew what she would do. Even though she was shy, she created a PowerPoint presentation designed to offer facts and to sway opinions. The class favorite was that humans have a greater chance of death by vending machines than by sharks.

Nina writes that while she might not have changed how all her friends think, the person who’s changed the most is Nina. Now when she volunteers with animals, Nina educates visitors about the more “dangerous” animals as well. And she will always argue for shark conservation.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Nina couldn’t tell her story without writing about her love of animals. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. As she acquired more information, her perspective about animals grew, as did her perspective on what she wanted her role to be. She learned to be an advocate and discovered a passion she didn’t know she had.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

“Friends”

David enjoyed hanging out with his friends. He was a good friend and liked to spend time talking with his friends while they all hung out together. David felt he was a loyal friend and that friends would always be important in his life.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. It’s not clear why this topic is meaningful to David or why his application would be incomplete without it.
  • There’s no learning or growth experience.
  • Boring. Nothing about this idea stands out or feels original.

If David had thought more about this idea, then it might have become an interesting topic. Perhaps he had made a difficult decision regarding a friendship, or had a made a choice that failed and had to figure out how to make it right. Then this could very well have become a more successful essay.

How Do I Find Topic Ideas for My Common Application Essay?

1. Start by brainstorming. The trick is to make this fun! Scroll through your photos and take a look at your videos. Poll your parents and friends and ask them how they’d describe you. (But don’t let them make the decision for you — their memories and ideas aren’t necessarily yours.) Here’s a fun idea: listen to yourself think. It may sound silly, but how often do we think about something interesting, and then – poof – it’s forgotten. Pay attention to your thoughts. You may find you come up with an interesting insight or two.

2. Don’t stop at the obvious answers. After you think of an idea or two, think of one or two more. It gets harder, but it also forces you to really investigate what lies below the surface. Most important – don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. We all have fears and failures. None of us makes decisions that are right all the time. It’s how you deal with them that’s important. That’s what the colleges like to see.

Tip: For more help, read my post on how to start writing your college essay.

Next: How to Write Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Read the entire “How to Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice


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Top Interview Tips for Teens

Do you have a college, job, or internship interview coming up?

Would you like to feel more comfortable and confident?

When you don’t have much, or any, interview experience, there are a few tips and techniques that are especially good to know.

In this post you’ll find my top ten list of interview skills for teens. They’re easy to learn and they work. Use them and you’ll discover how to make a strong and successful impression in your interview.

Top Interview Tips for Teens

1. Arrive Early

Early means early. Being late makes a bad impression. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your interview. Leave time for traffic jams, red lights, and a lack of parking spaces.

There’s a big bonus to arriving early. You’ll have time to sit down, relax, and get acquainted with your surroundings. You can double-check your notes. You can even take a trip to the bathroom.

If you’re not sure where you’re going, schedule a practice run. Or do it virtually. I tend to get lost, so before I go someplace new I use Google Maps street view and take a virtual trip where I’m headed. That way I can see the building I’m going to and it looks familiar when I get there.

2. Dress Appropriately

Collared shirts, khakis, dress slacks, skirts, button down blouses…this is the stuff people wear to interviews. Leave anything sheer, high cut, or low cut in your closet. Bottom line: This is one time you want to get wardrobe advice from a grownup.

3. Relax. It’s Normal to Be Nervous.

It’s okay to be nervous—in fact, a few nerves can keep us on our toes. But when you’ve got too many butterflies, here’s what to do:

Before your interview:

-Prepare. This may sound obvious, but it’s the thing that works. Know your positive qualities, have four or five examples you can talk about that illustrate your fit and experiences, and practice answering common interview questions. When you get to the interview you’ll feel more confident and in control.

The day of your interview:

-Arrive early so you can settle in.
-Take a brisk walk to shake off any jitters.
-Breathe! We forget to do this all the time.
-Bring a bottle of water. Nerves can give you a dry mouth. (But sip, don’t swig.)

During your interview:

-Remember the interviewer’s not the enemy—he or she wants you to do your best and succeed.
-If you stammer or forget something, don’t worry. It happens to everybody. Just smile and move on. If you’re really stuck, you can always say, “Can I think about it and come back to that question?”
-If you need an extra moment, take a sip of water.
-Smile. It helps you relax inside.
-Breathe.

For more help on how to de-stress, read my post on combating interview nerves.

4.  Know How to Start and End An Interview

Starting Your Interview: Look the interviewer in the eye and greet him or her with a firm handshake. Address your interviewer by name. Be cheerful and complimentary. (“Hello, Mr. Gavin, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”) Smile.

Ending Your interview. Do the same thing: Look the interviewer in the eye, shake hands, and smile. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, and make sure to say that you enjoyed the experience. (“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Mr. Gavin. I really enjoyed talking with you.”) Saying you enjoyed the experience is important. It helps leave the interviewer with a positive impression.

Ace your college interview - handshakesTip: A note on shaking hands. Some teens feel uncomfortable about being the first to offer a handshake. Don’t be—it’s a sign of confidence and maturity. The interviewer’s looking at you for adult qualities like maturity, responsibility, and leadership. Your handshake should be firm, but not bone crushing. And certainly not like a limp fish (!). For more information, read my post on the best ways to begin and interviews.

5. Be Able to Answer Common Interview Questions.

There are lots of possible interview questions, but some pop up repeatedly. Here’s a list of common interview questions you should know how to answer:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work here/Why do you want to go to school here?
How would you be a good fit here?
Tell me about a couple of your strengths.
What’s your biggest weakness?
What are your favorite subjects in school? Why?
What’s been your most challenging subject?
What’s gotten you curious enough to explore on your own outside of class?
How would your friends or teachers describe you?
What book(s) have you read recently outside of class?
Tell me about a time you had to overcome an obstacle or challenge.
Do you get along with your teachers?
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

Practicing is one of the best things you can do to get ready for an interview. Enlist a friend or family member to practice with you, and take turns being the interviewer and interviewee so you get a feel for both sides.

For more sample questions, check out my practice interview.

6. Never Give One Word Answers. Add Relevant Examples Instead.

Good interviews are conversations; they’re a give and take of information. That’s why you should never respond to questions with a one-word answer—it‘s like turning a two-way street into a dead end. Check out this “before” example:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes.”

Crickets. You just slammed the brakes on the conversation and now the interviewer has no place to go. But if you add an example, especially one that shows off your positive qualities, you create flow. Here’s what that answer might sound like:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes. I started out answering phones, but when I told them I was interested in marketing they let me switch departments and gave me a mentor. Now I’ve discovered how much I like marketing.”
Interviewer: That’s terrific. Tell me more about your mentor and how you work together.

When you include examples, you continue the conversation. The interviewer learns a lot more about you, and gets a much better sense of why you’d be a good fit.

Tip: Come up with 4 or 5 examples you can talk about in your interview. Your examples should help illustrate your positive qualities. Start by finding an example of leadership, an example of your ability to work as a team member, a time you overcame an obstacle, and both a class and an activity that have been particularly meaningful and why. Then, depending on the question you’re asked, choose the example that helps answer the question. (You can probably think of other ones, too.) If you need help figuring out your positive qualities, click here.

7. Research the School or Business.

Pretend you’re an interviewer and you ask two students why they want to go to your school. The first one says, “Because you’ve got lots of fun courses.” The second one says, “I really appreciate the school’s philosophy that to fully succeed you should know more than your single field of study.” Which student is going to stand out to you? The student with the specific answer.

To stand out, you’ve got to have specific, thoughtful answers. For that, you need to research the school or business. (Yes, this is homework, but I promise it pays off.)

Here are the steps you can use to help you ace your homework research:

How to Research a Business: Go to the company’s website. Find out what the company does, such as the products it manufactures or the services it provides. As you look through the website, pay attention to the main ideas the company highlights (Sustainability? Innovation? Connection with employees?). Next, look for news about the company on the website or search for it on Google. This will help you understand what’s new, and where the company is headed. As you go along, jot down the key points, especially the ones that make you feel like you’d be a good fit or excited to work there. You want to be able to answer questions like, “What do you know about our company?”…”Why do you want to work here?”…”Why would we be a good fit for you?”

How to Research a School: Go to the school’s website. You’re looking for two things: Information about the school and information about the students. Start by looking at the home page. What images and words appear on this page? The home page is like the school’s main ad—it’s where they’re going to hit you with a strong message about who they are and what makes them attractive. After the home page, find and read about the school’s mission and academic philosophy. Then follow the links that interest you to learn about academics, student life, activities, etc. As you go along, take notes about what interests you. Jot down the key words used to describe the school and its students (Involved? Globally aware? Research oriented?). Then come up with examples of how you fit those words and interests, so you can talk about it in the interview.

8. Use Good Body Language.

Body language is how we communicate without words. Believe it or not, before you say hello an interviewer is judging you based on your body language. That’s why good body language makes a good impression.

Here are good body language techniques:

– Sit up straight
– Look the interviewer in the eye
– Don’t fidget
– Don’t twirl your hair
Have good energy
– Keep your hands in your lap most of the time
– Smile when it’s appropriate

For more body language techniques, read my post, Six Confidence-Building Body Language Tips.

9. Ask Questions.

You should have two or three questions ready for the interviewer. Your interviewer will expect it. Write your questions down on a notepad and bring them with you. You can refer to the notepad when you ask your questions. (But don’t refer to your notes when you’re answering interview questions.) Make sure your questions are thoughtful. Don’t ask questions easily answered by the website.

Tip: You don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. Ask questions when it feels appropriate.

how to write collehow to write college interview thank you note10. Send a Thank You Note.

This is crucial. Send a thank you email right away. If you’d like to, you can also follow up with a handwritten note. When you’re writing, don’t be too casual. Instead of “Hey” or “Hi,” say, “Dear _____.” In the body of the note refer to something the two of you talked about, because that will make it more personal. One final, very important item: Make sure you know the correct spelling of your interviewer’s name, title, and contact information. If you don’t have it, ask for it at the desk when you arrive or ask your interviewer for a business card. If you still don’t have it after the interview, call and ask. Don’t hesitate to do this; you want everything to be just right. Details matter. Mistakes matter, too.

Bonus Tip: Show Your Personality! You want to remain professional—this isn’t the time to try out a comedy routine—but don’t hide who you are. Express your personality and let the interviewer get to know you. You can do that by:

-Greeting your interviewer warmly and with a smile.
-Engaging in conversation.
Having examples and experiences ready to talk about.

Finding connections: If you discover a connection with your interviewer (a book you’ve both read, the same city you grew up in, a shared interest or hobby), discuss it! It will help the conversation flow.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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When Should I Start Writing My College Essay?

When Should You Start Writing Your College Essay

When’s a good time to start writing your college essay? 

Students start asking this question about now, since it’s right after the prompts for the Common Application have been released.

I’ve come up with five commonly asked questions. The answers will help you figure out the timeline that’s right for you.

Let’s get to the questions!

1. It’s February and the Common Application prompts are out. Should I start writing? 

You can — but that doesn’t mean you have to, or that you should feel pressure to get it done. In fact, The Common Application says they release their questions in February to give you time to think and brainstorm — not to stress you out about writing.

So, instead of writing, my suggestion is to read the prompts and start thinking about them. Grease up those thought wheels! You’re stretching your brain in ways it might not have been stretched in a long time (if ever). Reach back into your memory to find those important experiences. You’ll need details. So make the experience fun. Take the time to brainstorm now, and start writing later.  You’ll probably be surprised at the stories you have to tell.

For more advice on brainstorming, check out my blog post on how to start writing your college essay.

2. Can I wait until summer to write my college essay?

Yes. Summer is an excellent time to start writing! It gives you the chance to think about the prompts and then get through junior year (whew!) before you start writing.

Let’s talk about a summer timeline: The best time to start is right after school ends. Give yourself six weeks to write your essay. If that sounds like a lot, remember that college essays aren’t a “one and done.” Count on your essay needing at least three drafts and a polish. (Some students write more drafts than that.) So don’t put it off — start as early in the summer as you can.

3.  What if I’m working or going away for the summer?

Great question. If you’re going away, doing an internship, or working lots of hours, the amount of free time you’ll have to write will be impacted. So do some time management: figure out how much time you’ll have and when you’ll have it. Set up a schedule to keep to your goals.

Tip: Don’t shortchange yourself. It’s easy to think, “I’ll write when I get back,” but if you’ve only got a week or two, that’s going to be a tough hill to climb. You should give yourself several weeks to think, write, rewrite, and polish.

4. Can I wait until senior year to write my college essay?

Yikes! I don’t ever recommend waiting until the fall to start writing your college application essay. Senior year is busy and often filled with tough courses. And applying to college is stressful. Put those together and you’ve amped up your workload and topped it with stress, and that’s not a good combo. You might also have to write supplemental essays, fill out applications, write essays for colleges not on the Common App, and study for late testing dates. All of that will demand your attention like a pack of relentlessly hungry puppies nipping at your feet. (Although I love puppies.)

5. Has my story happened yet?

This is an important question. If you’re stuck for the right story to tell, maybe it hasn’t happened yet. For juniors who are reading this post in February, March, or April — you can grow and change a lot in a few months. You’ve got new experiences ahead of you. So if you’re feeling like your essay topic isn’t the right one yet, and you have some time to spare — wait a little while and maybe you’ll find your essay.

Here’s a Summary:
first impressions college consulting calendar

  • Start brainstorming topics after the essay questions come out.
  • If you want to write during the end of junior year, that’s fine but not required.
  • Most students write their essays during the summer.
  • Manage your time.
  • Aim to finish before senior year starts. Your stress level will thank you.

Get this essay checked off and under your belt and you’ll be in great shape for everything else you need to do.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 


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2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

Common Application Prompts 2018-2019

Great news!

The Common Application essay prompts are out for 2018-2019. No changes have been made, so they stay the same as last year.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing detailed posts on how to answer each prompt. You’ll learn how to understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.

In the meantime, here’s what you need you know about the Common Application Essay:

  • You answer one of seven prompts.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.
  • You might also hear it called the Common Application Personal Statement.
  • Look for more information on the Common Application website or Facebook page.

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts:

Instructions: What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Tip: Check out this article on the Common Application prompts by Scott Anderson, Senior Director at The Common Application. He provides excellent insight into how to think about these questions.

 College Essay Writing helpInteresting Stats from 2015-2016 Applications:

  • More than 800,000 applicants submitted a Common Application
  • 47 percent chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt
  • 22 percent wrote about an accomplishment
  • 10 percent wrote about a problem solved

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write resumes that work, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.